The green school of today

Tim Wilbur, Director of Schools Consultancy at Gabbitas Education, explains why sustainability was key for a new green school in Dubai

The Arcadia Preparatory School, Dubai, opened its doors to its first cohort of students in September 2016. The school was the vision of the entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mohan Valrani who very much regarded it, and its forthcoming sister schools, as his legacy to the Emirate. Serendipity led to Mohan choosing Gabbitas as his educational advisors and we were to go on to take our place alongside other first-class advisors in the building of this state-of-the-art school. 

The school’s chosen name, Arcadia, also brought with it the classical overtones of an earthly paradise, in this case specifically for children and learning.

Sustainability was key to the design and central to both the educational and non-educational objectives. Designed by the celebrated architects Goodwin Austin Johnson, the school has already won ‘Educational Project of the Year’ in the Middle East Architect Awards, and in the MEP Awards, ‘Sustainable Project of the Year’. It is currently putting its portfolio together to gain accreditation as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) school.


Sustainable building practices, such as this, seek to provide optimal safe, healthy, comfortable and protective learning environments for students and pleasant working environments for faculty and staff. Sustainability in The Arcadia Preparatory School has been achieved in 15 key areas. The following are just brief examples:

  • The design has evolved around centralised open courtyard spaces, which draw natural light into the school and provide shaded play areas for the children. 
  • The classrooms are designed to provide views to the outdoors to enhance productivity, testing performance, and overall occupant comfort and wellbeing. The glazing uses highly efficient glass with good U-value ratings. 
  • The building is enveloped with an insulated system to control thermal heat gain. 
  • Sustainably sourced materials are used wherever possible, with a goal of 20% of the building materials’ cost to be comprised of materials with recycled and regional content.  
  • Indoor air quality is strictly maintained by use of materials with low VOC content and certifications to meet the global sustainable standards, thus minimising adverse effects on student and staff health. 
  • Sanitary fixtures with sustainable flow rates are used to achieve high water efficiency. 
  • The fresh air handling units have been designed with energy and sensible wheels for heat recovery and improved air quality. The heat recovery system is over 70% more efficient and saves around 200kW on the cooling coil load capacity. 
  • The energy usage for the heat pump is predicted as 6,541kWh/year, which is a significant saving compared to the 46,829kWh/year energy usage if we used a central electrical and chiller to heat and cool the domestic water. 

As part of the energy conservation measures, the lighting provided throughout the majority of the school includes automatic lighting controls for absence or occupancy sensing. In addition, if sufficient daylight is present in classrooms, the light fittings adjacent to the windows will turn off. High-efficiency electronic ballasts and the use of some LED light fittings provides greater energy efficiency.

The role of Gabbitas Education in this amazing project was to write an extensive academic plan which was accepted by the Knowledge and Human Resources Authority in Dubai, to liaise with the architects and others agencies regarding the wider educational needs of the project and to recruit the necessary school leaders and teaching staff. 



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